As Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito finalise preparations for their FIFA Club World Cup debut tomorrow, the mood in the camp is one of determination to continue breaking new ground. After becoming the first Ecuadorian club to lift the Copa Libertadores earlier this year, Los Albos now aspire to add a world title to their South American one.
Tournament first-timers they may be, but Edgardo Bauza's men have a striker in their ranks who lacks neither experience nor proficiency. He is, of course, Agustin Delgado, and he spoke to FIFA.com on the eve of his side's semi-final with Pachuca.
Significantly for his current club, Tin Delgado's ample CV already includes FIFA Club World Cup experience, obtained back at Brazil 2000, when he was playing for Mexican side Necaxa. "Competing in this kind of tournament is incredible," said the veteran. "The games are of a high intensity right from the off, and the tension in the long build-up is palpable. Here in Japan, I'm going to enjoy it to the full as I know it's tough to get a second chance to take part."
For the evergreen striker, however, Japan 2008 will still be a unique experience. "Taking part in a tournament like this is always special, but to do so with a team from your homeland is extraordinary. This is a big occasion for me and all my team-mates. We've got a lot of ground to make up, having just broken the stranglehold [on continental dominance] of the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. They're always the favourites, but this time we're here instead."
During the course of their triumphant Copa Libertadores campaign, Liga de Quito made a point of taking to the field with a placard in the colours of the national flag that said, ‘Va por ti Ecuador' (This is for you Ecuador). The former international stalwart hopes they can invoke the same spirit here in Japan. "What we achieved was significant for our country and a source of pride to us all. We've come here hoping to make more history." Delgado is also quick to point out the obligations that come with taking part. "In playing here we have a responsibility not only to Ecuador but to all of South America. We know how important this is and are happy to take up that challenge."
Having also played for Mexican outfits Cruz Azul and UNAM Pumas, Tin is not unfamiliar with Pachuca, his side's opponents in tomorrow's semi-final. "I think facing Pachuca is an advantage as they're the side we know the most about. They're very good when it comes moving the ball around and controlling games, and they have a winning mentality too."
Understandably, Delgado has been keen to pass on his knowledge of Los Tuzos to his colleagues. "I've told them they are a very tough team to play against and a side that fights for every single ball. I think the team that makes the fewest mistakes will come out on top, and for us to win we'll need to be completely focused at all times."
For the 33-year-old front-runner, who turns 34 on 23 December, taking on Manchester United in the final of what could be his last appearance at a major tournament would crown a long and distinguished career. "You're always really keen to take on the big boys," says Delgado, who was part of the Necaxa team that drew 1-1 with Sir Alex Ferguson's side at Brazil 2000. "As Necaxa proved back then, it comes down to 11 versus 11 and a good result is possible. Liga de Quito have a great squad, as do Manchester [United]. But first of all we need to beat Pachuca."
The Ecuadorian hitman could also become only the second player in FIFA Club World Cup history to score at two editions of the competition, thus following in the footsteps of Trinidad and Tobago star Dwight Yorke - a scorer for Manchester United in 2000 and Sydney FC in 2005. "It gives me a sense of personal satisfaction to have got this far," says Delgado, who is just one goal away from becoming the joint all-time top scorer at the showpiece event. "I know that this could be my last international tournament outside of South America. It's something that will stay with me forever and I hope to finish it in the best way possible."